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John Reich – Coin Designer at the United States Mint

1815 Capped Bust Quarter Dollar, B-1. Image: Heritage Auctions (visit www.ha.com).
1815 Capped Bust Quarter Dollar, B-1. Image: Heritage Auctions (visit www.ha.com).

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Engraver. Born 1768, in Furth, Electorate of Bavaria. Died 1832 or 1833, possibly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Johann Matthias (John) Reich served as an engraver at the United States Mint for 10 years between April 1, 1807, and March 31, 1817. Mint Director Robert Patterson hired Reich as an assistant to the elderly Chief Engraver Robert Scot at a salary of $50 per month ($600 per year, at which President Thomas Jefferson initially balked).

Immediately upon hire, Reich was given the task of redesigning every denomination of United States coinage, from the copper half cent to the gold $5 half eagle. In 1807, his Capped Bust design appeared for the first time on half dollars, and a similar design also appeared on the half eagles in 1807. Early the next year, a modification of this design–known today as the Classic Head–appeared on large cents and followed on half cents in 1809. For silver coins, the Capped Bust design was utilized on dimes in 1809, quarter dollars in 1815, and half dimes in 1829. Silver dollars and gold $10 eagles were not in production at that time, so the Reich designs never appeared on those denominations. Perhaps the single most important entry in the Reich portfolio is the 1808 Capped Bust to Left Quarter Eagle.

Famously, a legend concerning the model for John Reich’s Capped Bust Liberty was spread by numismatic author Don Taxay. Unsubstantiated and (probably) untrue, the rumor states that the design depicts Reich’s “fat German mistress”. The story was originally discovered in Mint archives dating to the 1860s.

While most engravers at the early U.S. Mint did not sign their coins, Reich placed a small notch in the 13th (bottom right) star that can be seen on all authentic specimens[1].

Biography

John Reich was born in Furth, Bavaria, in 1768. He learned the engraving trade from his father, Johann Christian Reich. According to L. Forrer in the Biographical Dictionary of Medalists: the elder Reich was “born at Eisenberg (Saxe-Altenburg) about 1740, settled at Furth in 1758, and died in 1814. He probably began as an assistant to a Counter-manufacturer, but started business on his own account about 1770, as shown by various counters bearing his name, some of which refer to the famine of 1771/1772. He had a factory of organs, clocks, mathematical instruments, musical boxes, and other objects. Of that period is a series of medals by him dated 1771 and 1772, and commemorating also that famine.” The younger Reich, according to Forrer, collaborated with his father from about 1789 to 1800. Many of the medals issued during those years with the signature of Reich were the work of both father and son together.

Fleeing the Napoleonic Wars, Reich immigrated to America as an indentured servant in 1800, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to Q. David Bowers, he came to the fledgling United States at the suggestion of Chief Coiner Henry Voigt[2] and quickly gained the attention of Mint Director Elias Boudinot. In a June 16, 1801, letter to President Jefferson, Boudinot commented “I have been waited on by Mr. Reich and was much pleased with his work.” Jefferson, in turn, agreed to have Reich prepare the design for his own Indian Peace Medal. He is also credited with designing the Jefferson Inauguration/25th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence Medal (1801) under Voigt’s guidance.

Patterson replaced Boudinot as director in 1806 and hired John Reich the next year. After a decade at the Mint, Reich left his post in 1817–possibly due to ill health, possibly because his request for a raise was denied[3]–and spent his remaining 16 years in Albany, New York. He is believed to have died in Pittsburgh.

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Sources

[1] Rarities Night Auction Catalog. Stack’s Bowers. August 11, 2016. 179.

[2] Marotta, Michael E. “A Passion for Bust Halves”, The Numismatist. American Numismatic Association: Colorado Springs, CO. December 2000. 1,407.

[3] https://auctions.stacksbowers.com/lots/view/3-P97NH/1808-capped-bust-left-quarter-eagle-bd-1-the-only-known-dies-rarity-4-ms-63-ngc

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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